Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart is not happy with the blogosphere. Last week, in an interview with Bloomberg News she griped

Who are these bloggers? They’re not trained editors at Vogue magazine. I mean, there are bloggers writing recipes that aren’t tested, that aren’t necessarily very good, or are copies of everything that really good editors have created and done. So bloggers create kind of a, um, popularity. But they are not the experts, and we have to understand that.

In addition to being a classic case of biting the hand that feeds you, Martha’s tirade against bloggers thrust the genre of food and craft blogs into the blogger vs. journalist debate. How silly. After teaching women that they could do it all, Martha wants women to know that they shouldn’t share recipes unless they are an expert. If there’s one area of life that shouldn’t be reserved for professionals, it is that of making a home.

It would be hard to overestimate the influence of Martha Stewart on American domesticity in the last twenty years. A few decades of feminism had left the American home looking shabby. Enter Martha, ready with Murphy’s Oil Soap, crème brûlée, and advice on the art of collecting vintage milk glass. (Was “vintage” even used as an adjective before the advent of Martha’s enterprise?)

I bought my first issue of Martha Stewart Living when I was fourteen years old. The heart-shaped cookies on the cover were iced and dusted with pastel sugar crystals. I was a girl who dealt with the pressure of exams by baking a pound cake. Now I had an authoritative source on everything domestic from scrambling eggs (Martha recommends adding a splash of milk) to planting a bulb garden.

Martha Stewart gave a professional air to every dimension of domestic work. She made Thanksgiving dinner a science and organizing linens an art. What had been called housekeeping became “lifestyle.”

There are two particular ways that Martha Stewart has adjusted the lighting on the landscape of feminism. First, Martha Stewart taught women to be domestic without reference to their husbands or children. She was a divorced professional woman. She rarely mentioned her daughter, Alexis, until Alexis was grown. Where once women had been encouraged to make their home inviting for their family, domesticity now became an expression of the woman’s self. For example, Martha Stewart’s “Design Principles” begin with the statement “Your home is a reflection of you.” Martha’s wedding website tells brides, “Your stationery is sure to be an original reflection of you.” In an article about how to wallpaper a headboard for your bed, we read, “Your most personal room should reflect, well, you.” You get the idea.

Second, Martha Stewart elevated “homemade” to the level of a gold standard. Store bought clothes and catered foods used to be marks of wealth. People who had money could outsource house work. Martha spread the message that anything is more desirable if it is made from scratch. This has become such an unquestioned value in our society that it is now popular to make homemade twinkies, creamsicles, and moon pies.

When I was in the first grade, I was jealous of the boy who got to bring store-bought cupcakes to school  on his birthday. His mother worked, so, presumably, she didn’t have time to make homemade cupcakes.  After twenty plus years of Martha Stewart Living , a professional woman today would likely be highly offended if you suggested that she didn’t have time to bake cupcakes (or a suitable gluten-free alternative) for her child to take to school.

While Martha Stewart herself did not make the connection between the quality of a woman’s homemaking and the quality of her mothering, women who related to her as a professional were able to make the leap themselves. They should be able run a corporation and make homemade bread for lunches. They should travel for business and keep a well-appointed guest room stocked with extra toiletries.

All of this greatly increased the pressure on women to do it all, and the women ate it up. Now, in addition to the plethora of lifestyle magazines spawned in imitation of Martha Stewart, we also have lifestyle bloggers. These bloggers not only do it all, they DIY (that’s “do it yourself,” in case you don’t speak Pinterest). And while Martha may dismiss them, scores of women are clicking away and measuring their success against their virtual homemaking mentors.

Which brings to mind Jesus’ remark to the other Martha, sister to Mary. Those of us who are tempted to see our homes as a reflection of ourselves, who get frustrated by the people around us who don’t cooperate with our domestic aspirations, need to hear it often. Jesus said to her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’”

Photo by Art Comments via Flickr

Articles by Betsy Childs

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